Tim Chester has written a short piece on ‘What to look out for in Mark’s Gospel’. What follows is a précis.
The big question in Mark’s Gospel is ‘Who is this?’ (Mk 4:41). Who is Jesus and what has he come to do?
1. The King who must die
Right at the beginning, Mark introduces us to Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God (Mk 1:1). Messiah (Christ) means ‘anointed one’, and this reminds us that the kings of Israel were anointed with oil. Jesus is the promised King. The first half of Mark’s Gospel is full of evidence of Jesus’ God-given, kingly authority. Then comes the climax in Mk 8:29 – ‘You are the Messiah’.
Immediately, however, Jesus says he must die. This was not at all what his hearers expected. A Messiah was expected to overthrow the Romans and restore the nation of Israel. So chapters 9-16 are about the necessity of Jesus’ death and what it means to follow him. And the second half of the Gospel finishes where the first half started – with a confession of Jesus as the Son of God (Mk 15:39).
2. Secrets and silences
At the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus seems to fit the expectation of God’s king and God’s kingdom coming in power. But soon opposition starts the mount. Can he really be Israel’s king? The parables recorded in Mk 4 explore themes of acceptance and rejection, power and peace, truth revealed and truth concealed.
Surprisingly, Jesus often told people not to talk about who he is (Mk 1:25; 3:12; 8:30; 9:9). The point is that he does not want them to proclaim him as king until they realise what sort of king he is – not a king who will conquer the Romans, but rather a king who must die.
3. Sight and insight
Mark often refers to physical sight or blindness as pictures of their spiritual equivalents. Not everyone ‘sees’ the kingdom for what it is, Mk 4:11-12. He refers to those who ‘have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?’ (Mk 8:18). His healings of blind people illustrate what he can do for those who are spiritually blind, Mk 8:17-29; 10:35-52).
4. Fear and faith
Mark often refers to fear and faith as two alternative responses to Jesus. See, for example, Mk 4:40 and Mk 16:8 (probably the original ending of the Gospel).
5. Who is this?
It’s all about Jesus. So, as you read Mark’s Gospel, keep asking:-
- Who is Jesus?
- What has Jesus come to do?
- How do people respond to him?
- How do I respond to him?